Last summer I wrote a letter to someone I knew who was about to go to college. It was full of things I wish someone had said to me when I was 18. Or ever, really. I thought others might benefit from a depersonalized version of this letter, so here it is.
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1. YOU DON’T NEED TO FINISH COLLEGE RIGHT NOW IF IT’S NOT THE RIGHT THING FOR YOU. Sure, it seems exciting and great. But if it turns out not to be exciting and great in a year or two, and you realize there’s something else you need to do for a while, this is the time to do it. No responsibilities, few debts, no kids, no spouse – in short, you’re as unfettered as you’ll ever be. You’ve been in school since you were at least 6, probably even younger. It’s OK to do something else. It’s hasn’t been that many years since people were traveling the world with a backpack or shipping off to sea at your age. Don’t let anything pass you by just because it isn’t what you expected.
2. TRY EVERYTHING. I don’t mean every drug. Unless you want to, of course. I mean every opportunity. There are so many things I didn’t figure out to try until just a few years ago, and I should have been doing them for years. Or I should have at least crossed them off the list. Live outside your comfort zone. Treat the whole world as one big hike and keep going, snakes and all.
3. IF YOU WANT TO, DATE TONS OF PEOPLE AND HAVE LOTS OF SEX. Nobody else will say this, so I’m going to. Be safe, of course, and keep your wits about you. Not everyone wants to sleep with lots of people, but if you do, DO IT. This is a great time to find out what you’re made of, what you like, who you’re looking for, etc. Don’t wait till you’re in a long-term relationship to realize that you have no idea what kind of person you want to be with. Trust me on this one. It’s big.
4. EAT WELL AND SLEEP. You’re probably going to push yourself, and that’s great. Don’t settle. Keep moving forward. But be sure you eat well and get enough sleep. If you don’t, you’ll eventually know it when you crash.
5. MAKE TIME FOR QUIET. Get out in nature if you can. But even if you have to find space on campus, find five or 10 minutes a day when you can just close your eyes, follow your breathing, and stop taking in or processing data. If you can find 20 minutes to do this, even better. And try not to do it in your dorm room. Find a quiet space with trees and birds or a nice bench or someplace that isn’t where you always are. You might need to find a new space in the winter. Or just bundle up.
6. KEEP IN TOUCH WITH A COUPLE GOOD FRIENDS. This is invaluable. You’ll need people to talk to about what’s happening in your life. You’ll make friends at school, but it’s great to have some people in your corner who aren’t on the same campus and therefore aren’t in the same social circles.
7. TRAVEL. Yes, take big trips to faraway places. But also just get on your bike or in a car or on a Greyhound and see some other places. Even if it’s the next town over or some little hamlet on the lake. Get out of your normal surroundings and see how some other folks are living.